Village Voice Media Likely to Remain with AWN

VVM's change-of-heart apparently related to proposals for reduced commissions and administrative fees.

Just months after Village Voice Media (VVM) announced it would leave Alternative Weekly Network (AWN) to form its own national advertising group, the two organizations are close to an agreement that would keep the relationship intact.

Although executives on both sides of the negotiation were reluctant to discuss details, VVM Executive Vice President Albie Del Favero admitted that the eight-paper chain likes the direction in which AWN appears to be headed regarding administrative fees and sales commissions.

AWN members currently pay a 5 percent administrative fee on all ads sold into their paper, according to AWN interim CEO Neil Skene. Under a proposal floated by Skene in the organization’s August newsletter, the fee charged to large papers would be reduced. Skene argued that his proposal is fair because the larger members generate more revenue for the organization and shoulder most of its financial burden.

“I want to be fair to everybody,” Skene said. “I don’t want to cut special deals for Village Voice Media. The largest four or five of these papers ought to be treated the same, whether they’re Village Voice or [the] San Francisco [Bay Guardian].”

Skene also proposed changing the sales organization’s commission structure, which presently pays an across-the-board rate of 8 percent. Under his proposal, a smaller commission would be paid on existing accounts. In addition, AWN would offer a bonus for sales into small-market papers, which would help to address the perception among many of AWN’s small-paper members that they aren’t receiving a fair share of the ads being sold.

“I think AWN is going to be, by the end of the year, an organization that will have made a fair number of changes of where it is heading,” Skene said. “[VVM and other AWN papers] want basically the same things out of AWN.”

Skene anticipates that the final changes will be announced before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Skene continues to plan for the eventual hiring of a permanent CEO. Even with a new CEO in place, however, Hanzlik Media Management is expected to remain in charge of the network’s back office. In addition, Skene said AWN won’t hire a dedicated sales force and will continue to rely on the national sales people employed at member papers.

After he steps down from his temporary post at AWN, Skene will retain an executive position within the alternative newspaper industry. Earlier this month he accepted a position with the Creative Loafing chain as group publisher for its papers in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. and Greenville, S.C., and as head of its interactive-publishing division. Skene said Creative Loafing’s new president and majority owner Ben Eason is “very supportive of AWN.”

The Atlanta-based chain, which recently surrendered a 25% stake to media giant Cox Enterprises, also announced the following management changes:

* Bill Boyd, a faculty member of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, was hired as group publisher for the Tampa and Sarasota newspapers. He also will be responsible for management and organizational development.
* Scott A. Walsey, a minority owner and top CL executive since 1979, was named group publisher for the chain’s papers in the Atlanta area.
* Angela Lafon, a CPA who has experience in big-five public accounting and in financial management for three public companies in the Tampa Bay area, was named CFO.

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